The Central Minnesota
Sustainable Development Plan



Our Story

Population: 117                              

Median Age: 30.5

Median Income: $10,536

Area: .50 square miles

Most Common Industry: Construction; Public Administration; Manufacturing


The city of Bena, located on the southern shore of Lake Winnibigoshish (Winnie), has a history as old as time itself. For thousands of years succeeding cultures called the area home and were sustained by the bounty found here. The Ojibwe/Chippewa moved from the east into the area settling across present day northern Minnesota. Later non-native settlers arrived and because of an abundance of first growth Red and White Pine trees, logging was king and the population exploded. The forest industry historically supplied many jobs, but was susceptible to boom-and-bust cycles. As the logging years diminished, the size of the town decreased.

Following the logging years family owned resorts, fish camps and campgrounds took hold as the area became known as a sportsmen’s paradise. Due to the cold winters, tourism was highly seasonal in the early years.



The median age in Bena today is 30.5 years compared to 43.1 years for the State of Minnesota and 69% are of Native descent. It is a friendly community where neighbors help and support one another.  After a severe storm everyone pitches in to clean up. It’s common to find impromptu gatherings in the evenings. Neighbors often congregate to share conversation, a campfire and a meal cooked outdoors. In late summer and early fall berry picking, wild ricing and hunting are communal activities. Large gardens are planted and the produce “put up” or shared with the entire community.

The Big Winnie General Store has been a landmark in town since 1932. It has been operated by the Dahl family for five generations and is the host each year for WinnieFest in the summer and Nightscreams a Halloween attraction in the fall. WinnieFest donates money to advance local charitable causes with the proceeds. 

Of special interest is the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig (Bug) School which offers, besides a conventional school curriculum, classes in native practices and language revitalization. Students acquire many traditional native skills including: how to dress a deer, fillet a fish, harvest wild rice and make maple syrup. Making pine boughs into wreaths is a seasonal pastime. The Leech Lake Reservation and Tribal Council assists the community and provides programs that benefit the enrolled band members.

Time and again community members articulated their preference for a quieter place, slower pace and the natural beauty and bounty found in Bena. They are respectful of the environment and are thankful for the blessings found in nature.

Bena and Lake Winnie are located in the Chippewa National Forest and surrounded by hundreds of square miles of lush marshlands, gently rolling hills and diverse woodlands. Lake Winnie, the fourth largest lake in Minnesota, is comprised of 67,000 acres of clear, cool water. Ninety-five percent of its more than 140 shoreline miles are undeveloped, making it a perfect location for a peaceful fishing getaway or family vacation.

The Chippewa National Forest, which was the first national forest established east of the Mississippi River, encompasses nearly 1.6 million acres with almost 1,300 lakes - including all of Lake Winnibigoshish. The Chippewa National Forest boasts 100+ miles of forest trails allowing abundant opportunity for berry picking, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, fall color observing, hunting, snowmobiling and cross country skiing. The Chippewa National Forest features the largest bald eagle population in the lower 48 states.


Residents identified these specific assets in BENA

Natural Assets:




Wild rice


Ground cherries


Birds-Trumpeter Swans/Loons



Bear: black/cinnamon/brown/honey

Trapping-Bob cat etc.




Northern lights/natural beauty


Cultural Assets:

Bug School                                        

Traditional people

Diverse culture

Traditional native culture


Family is important


Value elders-revered & respected


Human Assets:


Healthcare workers/doctors/nurses

Willingness to help


Giving native culture                             

Retired residents


Social Assets:

Pow Wow

Community sports

Easter egg hunt

Morning coffee/café

Evening meal sharing


Demo park

Community Center

Haunted House            



Political Assets:

 Leech Lake Tribal Council


Financial Assets:

Local businesses      



Built Assets:

2 Community Center                         

Demo Park 7 playground          

Post Office


Public camp ground


Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig (Bug) School

Baseball & softball fields


Basketball courts

Boat landing/public access

Covered picnic shelter



Community Goals:

  1. Create more work opportunities/small businesses

  2. More active/engaged city council

  3. More active community members in civic projects/planning & completing

  4. More affordable housing


For more information on the City of Bena and all it has to offer, visit: